Engaging students in an online learning environment is definitely challenging, especially if they do not have constant access to the necessary technology. While applications like Canvas’ IOS app allow students the ability to catch up on their online classes on their iPhones, many still do not have reliable computers at home. I would guess that the majority of students taking online classes have a computer or laptop at home that they can use to interact, but many of them are not technically savvy and can sometimes only send e-mail or search the internet. Using conference tools that require microphones and cameras can make interaction with other students and the teacher difficult for all of these and myriad other reasons.
Online students generally engage with their instructors through constant e-mail communication and with other students on discussion boards. The opportunities for virtual chats in programs like Conference Zoom are not plentiful since teachers cannot require students to be online at a specific time, and the students all have differing schedules. The idea of group forum discussions is one way a teacher could pair together students who share similar schedules to get them to interact with each other in more than brief discussion once a week. When students do interact online, it often makes it easier on the teacher because students who “get it” can help those who need additional instruction in navigating the course, etc. Whenever online students do interact with their peers and instructor online they tend to get more out of a class, which is why I like to make videos instead of just writing long instructions every week.
I am excited about new ideas and tools that can help connect teachers and students with one another online because it will only make for a richer learning experience. Learning how to overcome the obstacles that technology puts in our way can sometimes be difficult, but is a necessary and rewarding experience. However, you do need students that have the means to interact in this way.